“I personally don’t believe that we should label any person as disabled. What I believe is that we have broken environments and that we can solve these with technologies.”
Legally blind, faculty member Fernando Albertorio has spent his life creating “hacks” to make our “broken environments” more accessible.
Trained as a chemist, the self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur now develops products that help those with physical and mental challenges navigate the world, starting with a product that aids people with low or no sight.
Albertorio, who designed Lesley’s user experience research methods course, is the co-creator, co-founder and a user of Sunu, a wearable smartband that uses sonar to alert people to objects in their vicinity, giving off gentle pulses that speed up as they approach an object.
While it doesn’t replace a guide dog or a cane, Sunu helps lessen accidents to the head and chest.
“Some of our users tell us that the Sunu band has reduced over 90 percent of the accidents that happen every month,” says Albertorio, who teaches in Lesley’s College of Art and Design. “It’s enabling them to move about their space more confidently and with less stress.”
As Albertorio teaches his students, user feedback must be a critical component in developing a product like Sunu and its accompanying app. User experience (UX) is a growing field that invites users into the design process, from the initial concept, through prototypes and to the final product.
“We’re seeing that a lot of wearables basically get chucked in the drawer after a month or so,” he says. “To get adoption, you have to really understand how users interact with the product, how it’s working and how its providing value for them.”
Sunu has been tested by students at the Perkins School for the Blind and at a school for the blind in Guadalajara, Mexico, and by Albertorio himself.
Last spring, he even wore the band to navigate a 5K in Boston.
In addition to praise from Perkins and the National Federation for the Blind, the first two small product runs sold out, as did the official launch in October. Currently on backorder, Sunu’s early success confirms Albertorio’s commitment to a quality user experience.